The Extreme Republican Agenda Moves Forward In Tennessee-- Destroying Public Education
9 of the 10 poorest states are solidly red, including Tennessee, which has a 14.62% poverty rate, the 10th worst in America. Tennessee is also one of the most poorly educated states, just 30.48% having attained a bachelor’s degree. Tennessee has the 7th lowest life expectance rate in the country as well, just ahead of Oklahoma, Arkansas, Kentucky, Alabama, Mississippi, West Virginia, basically the MAGA States of America. All executive department officials— the governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state and comptroller— are Republicans as are both U.S. Senators and 8 of the 9 members of Congress. The state Senate consists of 27 Republicans and 6 Democrats and the state House has 75 Republicans and 24 Democrats.
On the other hand, there are definitely some nice people in Nashville, Memphis, Knoxville and Chattanooga. It’s undeniable, though, that Tennessee voters, overall, have decided to take the state in a profoundly backward direction. It’s a hellhole that most normal people wouldn’t want to live in. Only 4 states— Wyoming, Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana are less vaccinated against COVID and 23 of the states 95 counties have vaccination rates below 40%. Tennessee’s 5 least vaccinated counties are— no surprise here— MAGA shitholes that were among the Trumpiest places in the state:
Moore Co.- 22% vaccinated, 81.6% for Trump
Clay Co.- 31% vaccinated, 77.9% for Trump
Grundy Co.- 31% vaccinated, 82.0% for Trump
Cannon Co.- 33% vaccinated, 79.1% for Trump
Hancock Co.- 33% vaccinated, 86.4% for Trump
Trump beat Biden statewide, 60.66% to 37.45%. Trump won every county in the state except Shelby (Memphis), Davidson (Nashville) and Haywood (a Black majority county northeast of Memphis). So… its shouldn’t come as a surprise that the none-too-bright, pro-pandemic Speaker of the House, Cameron Sexton made a name for himself last year when a local reporter asked him his anti-health, anti-Choice, racist political initiatives have made it easier of harder to attract businesses and people to the state. Sexton said “[W]e haven’t seen really much of a decrease in that. As far as people moving here— I don’t know. I mean, maybe if you’re a more progressive, you might not want to come to Tennessee.” He’s right about that!
Today the Associated Press reported that Sexton, a notorious imbecile and even more notorious racist, has introduced a bill that would have Tennessee reject around “$1.8 billion of federal K-12 education dollars that help provide support for low-income students, English learners and students with disabilities… ‘Basically, we’ll be able to educate the kids how Tennessee sees fit,’ Sexton said, pointing that rejecting the money would mean that Tennessee would no longer have ‘federal government interference.’ To date, no state has successfully rejected federal education funds even as state and local officials have long grumbled about some of the requirements and testing that at times come attached to the money. The idea has also come up elsewhere in recent months among GOP officials, including in Oklahoma and South Carolina. Many Republican politicians and candidates at the federal level have also made a habit of calling for the outright elimination of the U.S. Department of Education.”
Sexton says he has been mulling the proposal for a while, but this week, he publicly touted the idea in front of a packed room full of lawmakers, lobbyists and other leaders at the Tennessee Farm Bureau luncheon on Tuesday.
“We as a state can lead the nation once again in telling the federal government that they can keep their money and we’ll just do things the Tennessee way,” Sexton said at the event. “And that should start, first and foremost, with the Department of Education.”
Spokespersons for both Gov. Lee and Sen. Randy McNally appeared open to entertaining Sexton’s proposal.
“Although we haven’t seen the details of the legislation yet, the governor is always interested in working with the speaker to ensure Tennessee students have the best access to a high-quality education,” said Lee’s spokesperson, Jade Byers.
McNally said he was open to the proposal, saying that “federal mandates in the area of education can be overly burdensome.”
“McNally thinks a discussion about forgoing this money, a relatively small part of overall education funding, in order to maintain more control over how we educate our Tennessee students is a constructive conversation to have,” spokesperson Adam Kleinheider said.
Democratic Rep. Bo Mitchell said he had several concerns about forgoing federal education funding, particularly knowing that the money currently goes to support students with disabilities and low-income students.
“I’m concerned about their rights and Tennessee being able to provide those services and uphold their rights,” Mitchell said.
In Republican-dominant Tennessee, GOP lawmakers have increasingly become more skeptical and combative over what is taught inside public classrooms— particularly over race and gender issues— and the policies surrounding what services schools offer to students.
To push back against these attacks, advocates have generally leveraged various federal funds the state receives as grounds to block or challenge various school-related bans. This has resulted in state and federal education officials often being at odds with each other.
For example, last September, the U.S. Department of Education reprimanded Tennessee for how it was carrying out statewide testing, saying its problems “impact the state’s ability to provide clear and transparent information to the public about school performance, but also result in the state using information that is not comparable across schools.”
Meanwhile, Tennessee was among the states to sue President Joe Biden ’s administration over a U.S. Department of Agriculture school meal program that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.
The lawsuit came after the USDA announced in May that it would include discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity as a violation of Title IX, the sweeping 1972 law that guarantees equity between the sexes in “any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”
And in 2021, the federal department opened investigations into Tennessee and four other Republican-led states that have banned or limited mask requirements in schools, saying the policies could amount to discrimination against students with disabilities or health conditions.
Yet it’s unclear whether Tennessee would have fewer conflicts with the federal government if the state chose to forgo the education funding. While the U.S. Constitution says public education is a state responsibility, states are still required to follow federal laws.
Separately, in January, Tennessee sparked national attention when state’s Department of Health announced it was walking away from nearly $9 million in federal funding designed to prevent and treat HIV.
In a letter sent to providers, the state announced that it believes “it is in the best interest of Tennesseans for the state to assume direct financial and managerial responsibility for these services.”
It's always been a huge part of the Republican Party agenda to destroy public education-- primarily because ignorant, uneducated people are easy prey for right-wing demagogues. Remember Trump's most cogent political statement on the night he claimed victory in 2016: "We love the poorly educated."